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American Masters "Walter Cronkite: Witness to History"
airs Sunday, July 19, 2009 at 7 p.m. on Eight/KAET

"He provided the model for how to gather the news, how to select what was important, and how to report it to the public in an honest, unbiased and balanced manner."

ASU Professor John CraftI am of the generation that grew up learning of the events that shaped my world from Walter Cronkite. Nearly every weekday night for almost 20 years I, like nearly 75% of the American public, watched one of the three television network newscasts. And I, like most of those viewers, chose to watch The CBS Evening News most often. Why, because Walter Cronkite seemed to understand how to best explain to me what had happened that day and what it would mean to me. Walter, with his good midwestern honesty and common sense appealed to my midwestern need to hear the plain truth straight from the horse¹s mouth, so to speak.

Watching the PBS American Masters program, "Walter Cronkite: Witness to History" brought back a wealth of memories and shared American experiences.

While the program title implies that Walter was the witness to the events that made up the history of our late 20th century, in reality we all were the witnesses to that history. Never before the advent of live network television could so many people actually share the events that give us our national identity, our purpose, and our cultural soul. While the television camera was actually there, it was Walter Cronkite, anchorman and managing editor of The CBS Evening News told us what the pictures really meant.

Cronkite, sometimes called "Uncle Walter," sat with us in our living rooms as we shared the triumphs of the space race and our man on the moon, the national mourning and outpouring of grief of President Kennedy¹s assassination and funeral, the debates, challenges, protests, and tragedies of the Viet Nam War, and the national disgrace brought by the political crimes of the Watergate scandals and the resignation of a President. Walter Cronkite reported the major events of my generation as they unfolded and he provided the context to allow me to understand those events. To me, Walter Cronkite was the journalistic icon, the face and voice, that told me that was the way it was.

Now, as a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, I have had the opportunity to study the news business and to meet and talk with Walter Cronkite. I will freely admit that the first time that I met him some years ago I was very intimidated, for here was the man who spoke with presidents. But I need not have worried. Within about two sentences, Walter had put me, and my class completely at ease with his friendliness, forthrightness, and just plain ability to talk to the guy next door.

Most importantly though, it was Walter Cronkite that set the standard for broadcast journalism. He provided the model for how to gather the news, how to select what was important, and how to report it to the public in an honest, unbiased and balanced manner.

Some twenty-five years after his tenure as anchor for The CBS Nightly News, and his reputation as the most trusted man in America, he is still showing us how to do journalism right through his continuing television documentary work and through his involvement in education in the school that bears his name.

Dr. John E. Craft, Professor
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications
Arizona State University
Written July 24, 2006. Program first aired July 26, 2006.

Visit the American Masters Web site
About Walter Cronkite
Cronkite's Career Timeline
Filmmaker Interview

American Masters "Walter Cronkite: Witness to History" airs Sunday, July 19, 2009 at 7 p.m. on Eight/KAET.


About Eight/KAET-TV
Eight, Arizona PBS specializes in the education of children, in-depth news and public affairs, lifelong learning, and the celebration of arts and culture — utilizing the power of noncommercial television, the Internet, educational outreach services, and community-based initiatives. The PBS station began broadcasting from the campus of Arizona State University on January 30, 1961. Now more than 80 percent of Arizonans receive the signal through a network of translators, cable and satellite systems. With more than 1.3 million viewers each week, Eight consistently ranks among the most-viewed public television stations per capita in the country. Arizonans provide more than 60 percent of the station’s annual budget. For more information, visit www.azpbs.org.

Eight is a member-supported service of Arizona State University.